The studies and research are piling up, and by the end of all this, it will be a mountain of evidence: the physical and mental toll of the coronavirus is something we will be dealing with for decades, and generations to come. The latest study out of the United States, which looked at more than 230,000 mostly American patients infected by Covid-19 , found that a third ended up with some type of brain or psychiatric disorder within six months of contracting the disease. The two most common ones should be easy to guess: anxiety and depression. In Hong Kong, citizens were some of the most stressed in the world to begin with, and then we threw a global pandemic and subsequent economic recession at them. One can only imagine how many of the city’s denizens are hanging on by a thread mentally and financially right now. The toll hit certain industries especially hard. Those declared “non-essential services” found themselves shut down and offered sporadic government assistance. Take the sport and recreation industry, closed for more than 150 days since the start of the pandemic, and if you were a coach of any kind, or teacher, the government offered three rounds of relief that amounted to less than HK$25,000. This is a big ask when you are essentially denying someone the right to earn a living for the better part of a year. The anecdotal evidence is already rolling in, adding to a qualitative picture that shows denying people the ability to play their favourite sport, or head to the gym for a workout, could have long-lasting effects. We were forced into lockdown and out of our regular routines, and therefore returning to normal is not simply like flicking a light switch back on. After pools reopened last week, swim coaches said a substantial number of kids had yet to return to practice and training. The reasons were multipronged, but the sentiment was streamlined; if you take something away from someone, first they struggle with it, then they accept it. Parents were hesitant to bring their children back, partially out of fear of the actual virus, the other around the fact that throwing a child back into a sport like swimming can seem scary. All work and no play makes Hongkongers the world’s fifth most stressed population Hong Kong’s gyms, fitness studios and workout establishments are seeing the same issue. Clients are not returning at their normal rates and the evidence suggests a fair portion may never do so . Whether this is a short-term response, a knee-jerk one that may change after time remains to be seen, but right now it does not look good. This also hurts the fitness industry built around helping people keep in shape, trainers and gym managers who rely on clients walking through their doors every day. Some of their clients were forced to go online to find their workouts, hitting up YouTube, and now in a financial pinch because of the economic situation, are finding gym memberships as too expensive. We know enough about the coronavirus to make some general assumptions. If you are ill, or overweight, you are more likely to suffer greater symptoms and are at a much higher rate of dying from Covid-19 than someone who takes care of themselves. This should come as a shock to no one, as there is a mountain of studies that clearly shows those who exercise regularly are just better equipped at pretty much every aspect of life. There’s now a few studies that have actually tabulated quantitative evidence backing what we all assumed to be true in the first place. Working out and exercising can help you ward off Covid-19 , and also helps with the severity of symptoms, plus recovery time. Hongkongers have endured this virus longer than anyone. When it first spread from Wuhan, we were one of the first cities to go into lockdown and impose restrictions outside the mainland. Now as we look towards the light at the end of the tunnel, the government is faced with a number of questions, and the most pertinent should be how they help Hong Kong people get back on their feet: financially, physically and mentally. Hong Kong has a chance to undergo a philosophical reckoning. Its “work hard, play later” mentality – which starts at school and carries on into adult life – did no one any favours. Those who were working long hours and exercising little headed into the pandemic already at a disadvantage. Their work-life balance, if they had any, got thrown in the blender. Forced to work from home, they were given their children as an added responsibility, and told working out or playing their favourite sport was not a luxury they could expect. As the vaccination drive continues, we find ourselves poking our heads up from the foxhole of this pandemic for the first time in what feels like ages. We have a second chance ahead of us, and one has to wonder – will we blaze a new path towards health and wellness, learning valuable lessons from this pandemic in the process, or falter and head back to ways of working ourselves to death and neglecting our bodies and minds in the process?